The former military fortification of Fort Stark, New Hampshire is located on Jerry’s Point in New Castle. Overlooking the Piscataqua River, Little Harbor, and the Gulf of Maine, the old fort is a state historic site and state park today that is open to the public during daylight hours.
Located on the southeastern tip of New Castle Island, the post was first fortified in 1746 as Battery Cumberland, with a nine 32-pounder cannon. The earliest forts were built to protect the colonists and Fort Stark was one of seven forts built to protect Portsmouth Harbor. The others included Forts Washington, Constitution (William and Mary), and Dearborn in New Hampshire, and Forts Sullivan, McClary and Foster in Maine.
The fort was rebuilt in 1775 for the American Revolution and armed with new guns, including two 32-pounders and six 24-pounders. However, these were soon removed to arm other forts in the area. Several of the guns captured at nearby Fort William and Mary were used to rearm this fort in September 1775, which was garrisoned until 1778. It was named in honor of John Stark, who commanded the New Hampshire forces at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.
In 1794 a new battery for nine guns was built on the site as part of the First System of U.S. fortifications. With the establishment of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1800, harbor defense became critical.
During the War of 1812, a company of 120 militiamen under Captain William Marshall garrisoned the redoubt. The guns at this time were a mix of 6-pounder and 9-pounder weapons. The redoubt was abandoned soon after the war ended in 1815.
In 1861, plans were drawn up for a large stone fort on the site, which was to become part of the Third System of fortifications, but the fort was never built.
In 1873 the United States acquired the property as part of a modernization of seacoast defenses. At that time, the earlier stone forts were found to be vulnerable to the rifled cannon and new defenses were planned. In 1874, earthworks for eight 15-inch Rodman smoothbore guns were planned as the “Battery at Jerry’s Point”, with an additional three “heavy guns” in the old redoubt. However, funding was cut off in 1876 with the new battery about two-thirds complete. More construction occurred in the following years, but the battery was never armed.
In 1887 the Jerry’s Point Lifesaving Station was built on the west side of the point, which remained in service until 1908 when the Portsmouth Harbor Lifesaving Station was built on Wood Island near Fort Foster.
In 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, emergency batteries were constructed to quickly arm key points, as it was feared the Spanish fleet would bombard the US East Coast. At Fort Stark, these consisted of two 8-inch guns. These guns were removed in 1900 to make room for the new batteries at Fort Stark.
Construction began on a new fort in 1901 and was completed in 1905. The new defenses included four batteries and facilities for controlling an underwater minefield in the harbor were added in 1907-1909. As with other US seacoast forts, Fort Stark was garrisoned by the United States Army Coast Artillery Corps and became part of the Coast Defenses of Portsmouth, along with Fort Foster and Fort Constitution.
When the United States entered World War I some of Fort Stark’s guns were dismounted and sent to Europe. During World War II, the Harbor Defenses of Portsmouth were garrisoned by the 22nd Coast Artillery Regiment and in 1942, a new combined Army-Navy Harbor Entrance Control Post and Harbor Defense Command Post were built atop the inactive Battery Kirk and disguised as a seaside mansion of the period. Afterward, the guns were removed and sent to other posts and the batteries were deactivated.
The fort was officially deactivated in 1948 and turned over to the Navy in 1950, who used the site for harbor defense purposes until 1953. It then became a reserve training center until 1980. The property was then turned over to the state of New Hampshire which developed it as a state park.
The historic site includes a small museum in the Visitors’ Center that includes one of the remaining 3-inch guns. The visitor’s center is open every Saturday, from 12:00 to 4:00 pm from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
A walking trail traverses the ten-acre fort site where numerous remains of the fort can be seen including the World War II Harbor Entrance Control Post, disguised as a seaside mansion, batteries, gun emplacements, the 1910 Ordnance Machine Shop, and more.
The gate to the park is open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, with parking available from 8 am to 8 pm. There are no restrooms and only limited parking.
Fort Stark State Historic Site
211 Wildrose Lane
New Castle, New Hampshire 03854